The Unmetalled Road

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon when I headed down (or up) the steep track that led to the temporary abode of a church member. The day had started as unpromising as many of the cold and damp days of early May before it, and I was expecting a chill wind. Many of us have a planner or diary to schedule our day-to-day activities and I hold true to the faithful habit of carrying my actual diary around with me. I am no technophobe, but I find there is merit in writing my engagements down in pencil (or more likely, almost run out biro). I long to be the sort of person who has a beautifully neat diary, that pops out filled with script like writing that makes make the casual observer feel they are in safe hands. What actually pops out of my bag is a well-thumbed, too small, church diary that has so much scrawling on its miniature pages even I struggle to make sense of it! But in it goes into the cavernous canvas bag, surely to sink straight to the bottom: along with the fleece, wrap and mini wrist warmers just in case.

I love the sensation of travelling on a new road, even one close to home. During lockdown so many people found new adventures right on their doorstep and the satisfaction of seeing something ‘new to you’ for the first time never disappoints. I have walked at least part of these country roads before, so today I am venturing (all be it in my Kia) beyond the known. The chilly air I feared is no longer my companion and I relax back into the warmth of the car’s dark seats that have been baking in the sunlight. I don’t put the radio on for this short drive- this is quiet time. There are many times of the day when we can snatch a moment of quiet, between the busy bold letters of the diary’s compelling demands. If you look closely (and I mean really close) you can find the gaps, or what I like to call the un-story. What I encounter on my journey will never make it to the headline appointments section of the page, nor will it be filed under ‘work’, but in this in between time I have found there to be more richness and life than I could ever have imagined.

But how do we begin to turn our down/ dead time, so often filled with chores, into something SACRED?

We begin by acknowledging the presence of God alongside us in our everyday activities. Whilst we may not always feel this connection, scripture assures us it is true. Once we begin looking for God beyond the headlines of appointments and meetings or ‘how we can help’ we may be surprised to encounter the Holy Spirit showing up: on our journeys, in our cleaning, our walking, when watering the plants.

Driving along the idyllic country roads this afternoon was so restful; as if curated in its beauty, that it reminded me of the Easter gardens I used to make as a child (and continued to make with my own children). You would have some plants, a stream, a stone rolled away- all in miniature perfection! To me these gardens felt like a sanctuary, a safe place that I would have loved to be lost in forever. As we sat out overlooking the valley, trying to identify an unknown bird call, I had a deep sense that this world is my sanctuary- if I will let it be so. That my God wants to commune with me in the Easter garden every day. By offering ourselves to the moment, to the divine as we experience her in creation, we are curating a special sanctuary within ourselves that we can draw on to sustain and refresh ourselves throughout all of life.

In John 15: 9-17 we hear that the life devoted to love, is a life devoted to action, and that will often come at a cost.

… If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… v10-1 (NRSV)

In the pursuit of living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life we frequently have to make choices that might mean we are negatively impacted in the short to medium term. Of course, this pales into insignificance when we keep our eyes on the prize: e.g., restoration of the planet! But still, it can feel tough to have limited choices, inflated costs or to boycott certain behaviours or habits such as flying or single use plastic.

As peoples of faith
we are called
to travel
on the unmetalled road…

We are called – yes, commanded-to be counter cultural, to live lives dedicated to love and to:

BEAR FRUIT, and not just any fruit, but lasting fruit.

 As I take an extremely sharp right turn, observing the faded ‘unmetalled road’ sign, I see a carpet of our native bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a large, robust looking pheasant with the brightest red face wattling I have ever seen and a cheeky grey squirrel who is clearly loving his invasive species status! The road is unmarked, with huge potholes and steep drops, but had I not come down this path my day would have been the poorer for it. Laying down one’s life can come in many forms, from extreme once for all sacrifice to daily sacrificial living that brings joy to others and beauty into the Easter garden of our souls.

In the paraphrase of the bible ’The Message’ verse 17 of John’s gospel passage states

But remember the root command: Love one another

This simple line has more depth than we could meditate on in a lifetime. To love without limit has far reaching consequences for every aspect of our lives and will require resources well beyond our own. If we are to follow Jesus into this adventure of un-knowing we shall need our quiet times on the unmetalled road to sustain us.

Dear God of the dangerous, unmarked road,
lead us into the wonder of your love
where joy is complete.
Challenge our thinking, our living,
lead us into the beauty of your self
where joy resides.

Amen and Amen.

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